A quinceañera for the community



As a teenager, Margarita Echeverria did not share the enthusiasm had by her friends for a coming-of-age ritual widely celebrated among Latino families. But it didn’t take long for her to get swept up in the revelry of the quinceañera.

“I bucked it a little bit,” said Ms. Echeverria, a self-described tomboy of Columbian descent who grew up in Southern California as the youngest of 17 siblings. “But then, I got into the spirit of it.”

Now Ms. Echeverria is working to bring what she described as a “wonderful cultural gift” to the Dance Palace Community and Cultural Center, where she has worked as a bookkeeper for nearly four years.

The specifics of the event, which is scheduled tentatively for early or mid-June, are not yet clear. But Ms. Echeverria, who plans in the coming weeks to spread word to families at school district meetings and other events, said she intends to leave preparations up to families that accept the invitation.

The event, she noted, will not be limited to Latinos. “I want them to make it theirs,” said Ms. Echeverria, whose idea helped the Dance Palace draw a $10,000 grant from the Marin Community Foundation. Part of that, she said, will help cover expenses—including decorations, catered food and a D.J.—for families with modest incomes.

A fiesta de quinceañera, which marks the transition for 15-year-old girls into womanhood, varies by ethnicity and among families. But certain elements, including religious ceremonies and the role of the mother, who typically prepares food and makes the dress worn by her daughter, often overlap.

The significance—and often, the cost—of the tradition in Latin American culture is second only to marriage.

“It’s a really big deal,” said Elizabeth Fenwick, who runs Gallery Route One’s Latino Photo Project. Her students, she said, often return with photographs taken at quinceañeras around West Marin.

For Ariana Aparicio, 23, who grew up in West Marin, the celebration was a “special moment” in her upbringing. “It’s kind of like a rite of passage,” explained Ms. Aparicio, a college-prep adviser at Tomales High School who wrote about the ritual as a college student. Ms. Aparicio said many Latino parents see it as a moment in which they “present their daughter to the community as a woman.”

To Ms. Echeverria, the celebration, which includes all generations of a family, reflects the culture of a people who “know how to party multi-generationally.”

“It’s the Latin way,” she said. “You eat and you drink and you dance.”

To learn more, contact Margarita Echeverria at (415) 663.1075.